For the first time in four years of reviewing Echo speakers, I can finally say that there is an Amazon Echo that actually sounds good for listening to music – which is the most important thing people do with their smart speakers. The new Echo Studio is not only the best sounding Echo speaker ever made, it is perhaps the best sounding smart speaker I have tested, regardless of brand, manufacturer or even price. In addition, the $ 199.99 Echo Studio is also a surprisingly competent home theater speaker in combination with one of Amazon & # 39; s Fire TV devices.
But the Echo Studio is not satisfied with the fact that it is the best sounding smart speaker or delivers a better sound than speakers that cost considerably more. It also tries to support a whole new format of audio, and that is where its ambitions precede its capabilities, at least for now. When I first got a demo of the Echo Studio in the offices of Amazon earlier this year, I was very impressed and impressed that the 3D music possibilities were something remarkable. After I tested the Studio for a week at home and compared it with some other similar smart speakers, I am less optimistic about 3D audio than I thought and I don't think most people should buy the Studio for its 3D music capabilities.
That criticism disappears when I listen to standard stereo music at the Studio. You don't need gimmicky 3D audio if you have a speaker that sounds so good and only costs $ 200.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Echo Studio is how much speaker you get for $ 200. Inside the approximately eight-inch long by seven-inch diameter dust-covered cylinder are no fewer than five drivers, including a 5.25-inch down firing woofer; three two-inch midrange speakers that shoot left, right and off the top; and a forward one-inch tweeter. All this is powered by a 330 watt amplifier with a 24-bit DAC. There is also a bass port for the woofer that gives the Studio a face-like appearance when you look at it.
Thanks to all those drivers & # 39; s, the Studio is the most advanced Echo speaker that Amazon has ever released. It is also the largest Echo speaker that Amazon sells (not including the Echo Sub, which is not a stand-alone smart speaker). It takes up more space than the Echo, Apple & # 39; s HomePod, the Sonos One or even the Sonos Move. That makes the Studio difficult to place in places like on a kitchen counter or bedside table – it is really designed to be in a larger space, such as a living room. I found space for it on the entertainment console near my TV, but you might have to plan something in your house to find out where you can place this thing because you don't want to hide it on a bookshelf.
The Echo Studio has the same light ring that glows blue when Alexa is listening; the same four buttons for volume, mute and other controls; and the same seven always-listening microphones for hearing your voice commands as the standard Echo – this is actually the same smart Echo speaker that you already know, only in a larger scale with better speakers. The Studio even has a Zigbee hub built in with which you can connect smart home devices directly, just like the Echo Plus and Echo Show. You can use the Studio for all the things that Alexa could ask for on any other echo, including the weather, smart home controls, shopping lists, random facts, audible books, and more.
The Studio also uses those built-in microphones to continuously tune its sound to the room in which it is placed, just like Apple's HomePod, Google's Home Max or the Sonos Move.
You can choose from a variety of streaming music services to play on the Studio, including Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, Deezer, Pandora, SiriusXM, iHeartRadio and TuneIn. The Studio plays stereo music from all these sources, either via their smartphone apps or via voice commands to Alexa.
But to access all of the Studio's audio features, you must use the Music HD service of $ 12.99 per month, which supports high-resolution tracks and the new 3D music format. (Amazon says Tidal HiFi will also support 3D music from next year.) 3D music is a whole new way to mix music that offers a more spatial experience than a standard stereo mix. It is no different than how Dolby Atmos provides a more spatial surround sound experience for movies – in fact, one of the two 3D music codecs is called Dolby Atmos Music (the other being Sony & # 39; s 360 Reality Audio). The Echo Studio is the first speaker to support this new format, in the form of Dolby or Sony.
Tracks that are mixed in 3D music are meant to fill the room differently than a standard stereo song. It is assumed that you feel that you are surrounded by music, and thanks to the ability for producers to place sounds and effects in different physical locations, it should sound like certain instruments are behind you.
In reality, the effect is less impressive and, frankly, a little weird to get used to. Amazon says you should be able to close your eyes and feel that the music is coming from everywhere, as opposed to a specific location where the speaker is placed, but in my experience my ears were never fooled – it always sounded like the music was from where the Echo Studio was. 3D tracks tend to have a little more presence and a larger soundstage than standard stereo songs, but they can also be "processed" and sound less natural.
Songs mixed in the 3D music format can also just sound … other than the standard stereo tracks you are used to hearing. Did you know that there is an entire orchestra of strings in Cam & # 39; ron & # 39; s 2002 hit "Oh Boy"? Well, there is not if you listen to the stereo version of the song, but for some reason the 3D version has them. The character of the song naturally changes completely. When asked about the discrepancy, an Amazon spokesperson said: "Artists can choose to use the same sounds and objects from the stereo version or they can add new ones when mixing in 3D." But if you ask me, Han shot first and "Oh Boy" has no strings.
The & # 39; 7 rings & # 39; from Ariana Grande do better with the multiple layers available in the 3D mix, just like & # 39; What & # 39; s Going On & # 39; by Marvin Gaye – both sound more immersive and more enveloping than the stereo versions, while remaining true to how the originals sounded.
But because songs must be mixed specifically to support 3D music, there are few available at the moment to listen to. Amazon Music HD has a "Best of 3D Music" playlist with just 20 songs in different genres (but to my great disappointment no metal or punk tracks) and the company could only give me a list of another 26 3D songs to play. tests on the Studio that are not in the playlist.
Amazon says there are currently & # 39; thousands & # 39; 3D music tracks are available and more are constantly being added, but it is almost impossible to find them to listen to outside of Amazon's recommended playlists. There are no full albums that I could find, and landing on a 3D music track consists largely of asking Alexa to play a song and then looking at the Amazon Music app on my phone to see if it has a special badge indicating that it is playing in 3D at the Studio. It is usually a nonsense.
That means that you usually listen to stereo music in the Studio. Fortunately it sounds great when playing stereo tracks, with a loud, full output, clear treble and a decent bass response. By default, the Studio applies a "Stereo Spatial Enhancement" to stereo tracks using Atmos technology to give them a sense of the 3D music feel, but it usually only sounds echo-like, as if the song was smeared with far too much reverberation. If you switch that off in the Alexa app, the volume of stereo tracks increases and its quality improves considerably.
Some find the sound of the Studio too "clinical" because it lacks the warmth of other speakers. I would have liked even more powerful basses, such as the Sonos speakers. But in general there is not much to complain about with his sound. You can improve the bass response with an Echo Sub, but it would surprise me if someone really bothers that.
If you don't care about 3D music (which you probably shouldn't do at this time), using other music services in the Echo Studio is fine, because Spotify sounded just as good as Amazon Music HD in my tests.
Compared to the Sonos Move of similar size, the Studio is louder and better at filling the room with sound, but the Move has a stronger attack and tighter bass response (which is not surprising, since Sonos speakers tend to rise above emit their weight when it comes to bass reproduction). In addition to Apple's HomePod, the Studio is louder, clearer and generally sounds better. As I noted in my Sonos Move review, the HomePod sounds like it has a filter that masks the brightness and output compared to the Sonos or the Studio.
To really challenge the Studio, I had to switch to the Sonos Play: 5, which has a much better bass and a more realistic stereo separation than the Studio. Everything just sounds better on the Play: 5 compared to the Studio. But the Play: 5 is not a smart speaker and costs $ 500. There is really nothing that I have tested that can compete with the Studio for or even for a few hundred dollars more than its price.
The Echo Studio further distinguishes itself from the rest of the smart speaker competition with its ability to work as a Dolby Atmos home theater speaker in combination with a compatible Fire TV device (first or second generation Fire TV Cube, Fire TV Stick 4K or third generation Fire TV, but no TVs with built-in Fire TV software). It is the first truly wireless Dolby Atmos speaker and offers a much better sound experience than you can get with the speakers of your TV or a similarly priced soundbar. It even gives the much larger and more expensive Dolby Atmos soundbar and I own a run for its money.
You can use two Studio speakers and an Echo Sub in a home theater setup. But even with just one speaker and no connected sub, Atmos movies and TV shows & # 39; s sound excellent through the Studio, with noticeable spatial effects and much more presence than what you get from the built-in speakers on your TV. The 3D effects of the Studio are much more appreciated and effective here than when listening to music.
But there are limitations: your TV returns to its own speakers when you watch something that is not on the Fire TV, and there is not really a lot of Atmos content available on the Fire TV outside Jack Ryan and whatever Netflix has. Yet it is a painless installation (just connect the Fire TV and Echo Studio in the Alexa smartphone app and you are ready) to get much better sound than the speakers of your TV for both standard and Atmos content. Apple & # 39; s HomePod has similar capabilities to the Apple TV, but does not support Atmos mixes and is overwhelming compared to the Studio.
Since the original Echo came out and people use Alexa and other voice assistants to play much more music than any other task, we've been looking for an Echo speaker that actually sounds great. The Studio is finally that Echo speaker – it sounds great, is a fully capable smart speaker, can also work as a home theater speaker and costs less than you would expect.
The Studio is not the speaker of the future, it is just an excellent smart speaker for today, and that is more than enough to recommend.
Photography by Dan Seifert / The Verge
Vox Media has affiliated partnerships. These do not affect editorial content, although Vox Media can earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. See for more information our ethical policy.